Sermon, Pentecost 15C, Sunday August 28, 2016
St Petri, The Story Week 20, Esther: Beauty and Courage
the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.”
3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favour with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. 4 For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated.
Sometimes it seems that we have to simply “roll the dice” in life. That contract signed, that debt undertaken, that subject chosen, that Uni course selected off, that question of marriage popped…..
Choices about what we do now that will determine how it goes for us in the future have to be made and we have to choose quite blindly, because we just can’t know all about the future.
Like a punter at the TAB in the pub, or the workers dolled up in funny hats and racing attire at the Melbourne Cup lunch, we roll the dice of fate and make that decision that will shape our future win or loss, triumph or ruin.
Esther, faithful woman of God “rolls the dice” if you like. It could easily go bad for her. She puts her high position, her family name, her personal wellbeing, her very life in God’s hands to do something just and fair and right and needed, not for herself but for others.
The Book of Esther tells of the first time the Jewish people were nearly totally exterminated as a people. It was not in WWII, but hundreds of years before Hitler ever came to be. This ethnic cleansing or genocide was at the hands of a similarly hate-filled man who had high connections; a man named Haman. Haman used his power to get his hate done.
The Book of Esther also tells of the Lord working through two people against the hate and the injustice, Mordecai and Esther. We hear today that the hidden God works through people who were willing to trust him as they speak words of truth and act on others’ behalf.
God is never named throughout the whole book of Esther. And yet, even if he is unnamed or unrecognized by many, the Lord of the Abraham and David promise is active and faithfully working for his people – way out there on the lonely rim in exile.
Here’s how the story goes….
During the exile many Jews are living in the capitol city of Susa in Persia and in the 127 provinces of Persia.
In Susa is a descendant of the Amalekites named Haman who is close to the King’s ear and who hates the Jews, particularly a Jew named Mordecai.
If you remember back to the time of Joshua, the Amalekites were the first people to obstruct Israel from entering the Promised Land. Then in the time of King Saul, Saul was told to destroy the Amalekites, but disobeyed. They lived on. What we have here is ethnic war history.
Haman convinces King Xerxes to decree the extermination of the Jews in all 127 provinces. Whoever kills the Jews can keep the Jews’ possessions too.
Haman casts lots (Hebrew pur or purim), that is, he rolls the dice to determine the day to kill the Jews. The dice come up Adar 13th (10 March in our calendar).
But the God of justice and promise is at work among his people. Esther and Mordecai do more than just roll the dice. They speak and act in the truth of God as best they can – and not for themselves but for their people.
Who are they?
Well, Esther, a Jewish girl, is selected as Queen after Queen Vashti is deposed for resisting King Xerxes call to appear before him (Esther 1; 2:12).
Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, convinces Esther to appeal to King Xerxes to stop the genocide of the Jews. The appeal could lead to Esther’s death (Esther 4:14 and 16).
Xerxes receives Esther who devised a plan to reveal the evil plot of Haman.
Xerxes cannot sleep and reads in the history books that Mordecai, a Jew, had previously saved him from an assassination plot.
Xerxes tells Haman he wants to honour a man who saved his life. Haman thinks that the king has him in mind, not Jewish Mordecai.
When the king asks Haman how such a hero of the empire should be honoured, Haman visions himself wearing royal robes being led on a royal stallion through the city streets lined with cheering people.
Instead, it turns out that Haman has to lead this Jewish man, Mordecai, on that stallion wearing those royal robes through those same city streets to cheering crowds. Haman, the hate-filled man of power is humiliated.
At a private dinner arranged by Esther, Haman is exposed as the one who seeks to have all Jews killed on Adar 13th and he is executed on the very gallows he had built to kill Mordecai.
Xerxes cannot revoke his decree that anyone can kill a Jewish person and take their stuff. But he can issue another decree that says that all Jewish people can rightfully assemble and defend themselves on Adar 13th.
The Jews do so and prevail. The Jews declare Adar 13th (our March 10) as the Feast of Purim, the Festival of the ‘Lots” “Dice”; the day on which they were saved from death. Thy still celebrate that day now.
Mordecai is honoured by taking Haman’s place as an official in the Empire and beautiful, courageous Esther continues as Queen.
Friends, Haman rolls the dice but Esther and Mordecai don’t. They speak truth and do truth. They speak and act with faith in the Lord even at threat of losing face, losing name, losing even life.
Esther puts her own life in God’s hands to save tens of thousands of her people from an evil man who wishes only death a destruction.
She is here to cast light on Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus would not roll the dice either. His captors did as they watched him suffer on that lonely hill of shame.
Jesus was not rolling the dice or treating life as a game to be won or lost. Jesus is treating life as a gift to be given as he puts his life on the gallows for the life of not just one people but all people.
- Jesus lets them do their hate-filled work to end hate between us.
- Jesus enters pain to give peace in pain, and his peace gives a hope in the pain.
- Jesus takes the wrath of judgment of a just and holy God who highly values life on all those who don’t – people like Haman, whether the Haman is big or little, known or unknown, within ourselves or at the hands of another.
- Jesus the Divine man who is Lord of all, defeats the Source of all the ‘Hamans‘, not with human power but divine forgiveness, truth, justice.
- Jesus’ mercy and love triumphs completely over the dark human heart and the Prince of Darkness and Lies.
We should celebrate this forever! Wait a minute. We do celebrate his victory. It is today! It is why we gather. Worship is a celebration of Jesus victory for us.
Hear it today: Jesus, the son of the living God puts his life in his Father’s hands to secure the life of tens and tens of millions of people captive to death, darkness and lies for the rest of history.
Sounds like a mission to receive; a mission to do; a mission in which to invest my life. Sounds like a fitting mission for a community of faith in Jesus – to share the love and hope of Jesus in our place and time.
We are Esther and Mordecai now. We are not just rolling the dice. Life is not a game. Life is a gift. Life is God. Jesus is life. Life is God in our bodies, working through our bodies.
Life is not dependent on Lady Luck because God is God now. God active but hidden – usually in the opposite places and things we look for.
- Power in the giving up of power – serving.
- Influence in the giving up of self.
- Joy in suffering.
- Faith in doubts.
- Loud truth in quiet words.
We are Esther and Mordecai, baptised into the Risen Jesus, called into the opportunity to put our own lives in Jesus’ Father’s hands, for he is now our Abba Father too by adoption.
He calls now to you to live courageously and faithfully giving word and action to his beautiful grace for dozens of people to whom we relate often.
Many of them only know life partially – only lived under the dark shadow of darkness, death, destruction, with no experience of Jesus’ acceptance and love that is the game changer for peace and justice in this broken community.
No need to roll the dice and resign to blind fate. But plenty of inspiration to trust Jesus’ presence and promise and do his word at personal cost. It is how He rolls.
We are here now.
The Spirit of the Risen Jesus is with us here now.
Esther stood by serving and respectfully speaking and many were saved.
It is how we roll now too.
Chapter 20, the queen of beauty and courage
Timeless Truth: God’s providence includes both justice and love.
Chapter Summary (Have someone in your group read the summary section.)
King Xerxes of Persia had reason to party. His vast empire was powerful and prosperous. His queen was lovely. His palace was ideal for a celebration befitting such a monarch. His merrymaking continued for six months when Xerxes summoned Queen Vashti so he could put her on display for the inebriated revelers. She refused. Kings do not like to be refused. With his advisers’ support, he stripped Vashti of her crown and banished her from his presence.
Kings also do not like to be queenless. The king commissioned a kingdom-wide beauty pageant and young women from every province were whisked into the king’s harem for a year-long visit at the royal spa. One such woman was a Jewish girl named Esther who had been raised by her cousin, Mordecai. Esther won everyone’s heart, including the king’s. He made her queen but did not know she was a Jew. Soon after, Mordecai learned of a plot kill the king. He passed the news to Esther; the king was rescued and the conspirators hanged. Xerxes’ scribe recorded Mordecai’s service in the annals of the king.
Haman was King Xerxes’ right-hand man. Haman reveled in his high standing and enjoyed having all the royal officials kneel at his feet. Mordecai refused to pay such homage. Haman was enraged. To exact his revenge, Haman deceived the king into issuing a decree to exterminate Mordecai and his people, the entire Jewish population of Persia. He cast a lot, or pur, and chose a single day of unfettered violence against the Jews.
Mordecai sent word to Esther asking her to beg the king for mercy. Queen Esther feared for her life because no one could legally go before the king without prior permission. Mordecai’s immortal words persuaded her: “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” Her courageous response was, “If I perish, I perish.”
She and the Jews in Susa fasted, and Esther approached the king. Xerxes welcomed her and offered to grant her heart’s desire. She invited the king and Haman to a private banquet. Haman was delighted. Esther invited them both to another fancy but ultimately fatal feast. Haman was elated to be the exclusive royal guest but still enraged over Mordecai’s insolence. With all the satisfaction of a Cheshire cat, he erected a pole on which Mordecai could be impaled.
Kings with full stomachs must not sleep well, so Xerxes spent the midnight hours reading the royal records. He discovered the account of Mordecai’s report that saved his own life and wondered how he might honour such a man. The king asked Haman for advice on how he might honour one of his favourites. Assuming that he was the king’s favoured, Haman dreamed up an elaborate ceremony. Within moments, a mortified Haman was giving his nemesis the king’s robes, leading him through the streets and singing his praises. Haman later enjoyed the queen’s second banquet until Esther exposed his plot to destroy her people. The king left the room in a fury only to return and discover Haman appearing to assault his queen. He ordered that Haman be impaled on the very pole intended for Mordecai.
The king could not repeal his original edict declaring the destruction of the Jews. But he enabled Mordecai to issue a counter-edict providing for the Jews to take up their own defense. The day planned for destruction became a day of deliverance. Though the lot was cast, God remains the author of the story. Even in exile, God protected His people, and in Esther, we see God’s heart for saving us all.
Icebreaker Question: What’s the biggest, most lavish party you have attended?
- Analyze the positives and negatives of King Xerxes as a leader.
- The book of Esther has been called the “godless book” because God’s name is never mentioned. Prayer, the Law, sacrifices, and temple worship are also conspicuously absent. Where can you find God’s supernatural blessings in the story anyway?
- Look up Isaiah 48:20 and Jeremiah 29:10, 50:8, 51:6. What do these verses say about the Jews like Mordecai and Esther who stayed behind? What do you learn about God through His providential care of the Jews outside of the Promised Land?
- The book of Esther is full of irony, such as Queen Vashti who would not come before the king when requested and Queen Esther who came before the king when not requested. What other examples of irony can you find in this chapter?
- What life lessons does Haman teach us about pride, self-centeredness, and hatred?
- Review the correspondence between Mordecai and Esther concerning an appeal to the king (p. 281-282). What is the relationship between God’s providence and our responsibility?
- What risk was Queen Esther taking by approaching the king and how did she prepare for it (p. 282-283)? What factors do you suppose could account for Esther finding favor in the eyes of the king?
- Queen Esther was willing to risk her life to save her people. Can you share a time when you took a risk to do what was right?
- Esther is not the first Hebrew that God positioned in a place of influence to be a source of deliverance for His people. Who are the other deliverers we have studied in The Story and what common threads connect Queen Esther’s story to theirs?
- How does the Lower Story of Esther fit into the covenant that God made with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3)? How does it fit with God’s Upper Story of redemption?
In the time remaining ask your group members to share any of their personal reflection insights from their journal entries.
Chapter 21, rebuilding the walls
Journal your answers to these questions as you read through the chapter this week. You may wish to read one day and journal the next, or spread the questions over the whole week.
- Ezra “devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (p. 292). How has your own devotion to the study of God’s word changed since the beginning of The Story?
- Review Ezra’s praise prayer (p. 294). Compare it to Proverbs 21:1. How might this help inform your view of our country’s newest government leaders?
- Why did Nehemiah and Zerubbabel respond differently to opposition? (Review p. 264-266.) How are you most likely to respond when you face opposition?
- Compare Nehemiah’s self-defense (p. 296-298) with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:38-45. How do you reconcile the differences?
- What characteristics make Nehemiah a good leader? Which characteristic do you most need in your life?
- Nehemiah chose Hananiah as a co-leader of Jerusalem “Because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do” (p. 300). How would you benefit from surrounding yourself with “Hananiahs?”
- Compare Malachi’s message on marriage with 1 Peter 3:7. Of what is marital unfaithfulness a symptom? What warnings might you give to a friend who treats a spouse poorly?
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